Texas A&M bonfire collapse ‘miracle survivor’ discusses documentary ahead of 20th anniversary


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Twelve killed, 27 injured. Officials counted one more among the dead — John Comstock, the 13th man.

I was so critical one night I was taking three bags of blood and they weren’t sure if I was gonna live. And in fact they told my mom, ‘He has no blood clotting factor left at this point. He’s just going to bleed out no matter how much blood we put through him.’ A&M caught word of that so they printed out a press release that said ‘I was 19. I was from Richardson, Texas, and I was the 13th fatality.’

John Comstock

But he survived, and the press release never made it to the public’s eye.

Comstock was the last survivor pulled from the fallen logs after the Nov. 18, 1999 bonfire collapse at Texas A&M University.

The bonfire was a tradition that burned since 1907. It continues on off-campus as the rebranded “Student Bonfire.”

(Courtesy: Double Wave Productions)

Comstock, who is still bound to a wheelchair, met with KXAN Tuesday ahead of the Friday statewide screenings of the documentary, “The 13th Man.” The film, directed by Charlie Minn, will be shown at select Texas theaters for one week during November. Comstock got to watch the movie at its premiere.

“It was very emotional for me. There was a lot of footage I just don’t really remember,” Comstock said.

Comstock said so far the reviews have been “very positive.” Many have said the documentary was “very well done” and thought it “represented the 12 very well.”

When asked if he had been to a bonfire since the collapse, Comstock said:

Yeah, I made an off-campus bonfire. It was great. I loved watching it. In fact, when most of the people cleared out, I stayed ’cause it was still burning and it was a very cold evening, I realized when I got home later that night I burned off all of the hair on my forearms because I was trying to stay warm.

John Comstock

And he still supports the tradition despite all he has suffered.

“I’m still pro-bonfire,” Comstock said. “I just want them to be safe. I don’t want them to have to go through anything like what I went through. Ultimately I want them to experience the tradition of Bonfire, and the comradery we had when we were out there.”

Minn is more critical of the university and what happened.

“These were 12 college students that were killed,” Minn said. “That’s unacceptable. We should all be angered by this. 12 young people with bright futures, just taken away.”

Comstock hopes the documentary brings awareness to the 12 who died and motivates people to see the campus memorial. He also hopes his story inspires others facing adversity. He wants others, especially current and future Aggies, to learn about the tradition, and why it means so much to so many people.

The documentary comes out statewide on Friday in 20 theaters around Texas ahead of the 20th anniversary of the collapse on Monday. You can visit the film’s website to learn more about it and where it is screening.

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